MILWAUKEE - First Lady Jill Biden visited Milwaukee on Wednesday morning, Sept. 15 to speak about safely reopening schools amid the pandemic.
The first lady arrived in Milwaukee around 10:15 a.m. and was greeted at Mitchell International Airport by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
Biden then took a motorcade to Marvin E. Pratt Elementary School in Milwaukee.
"I'm so grateful for the educators like those here at Marvin Pratt Elementary who helped us through the last year -- when families needed help the most, educators answered the call," Biden said. "I'm here today because your children matter to me -- and they matter to the president."
During her speech, the first lady was not wearing a mask even though Milwaukee Public Schools policy requires them – even when teaching.
"A simple cough can really get your heart racing," Biden told parents. "You know that a quarantine could send your kids home and upend your life once again."
"I know this is complicated. But we're going to keep listening and we're going to keep learning from your experiences. And we are committed to working as hard for your children as you do," Biden said. "Together, I know that we are going to find a way forward."
Following her speech to a small group gathered inside the school library, the first lady put on a mask as she sat down in a roundtable format to hear personal stories from a Pratt teacher, the school principal and Pratt parents, plus the president of the National Education Association (NEA), a teachers' union that includes Jill Biden as a member.
First Lady Jill Biden visits with teachers, parents at Marvin E. Pratt Elementary School in Milwaukee
"That was my biggest concern, just keeping the kids safe," said parent Rachel Spell.
The first lady responded,"Are the kids afraid?"
Spell answered, "My daughter, she’s not afraid. She’s just happy to be back with her friends. She’s part of the Girl Scouts, so she missed the social interaction with her friends, and the classroom and the teachers, and the staff."
Parents shared difficulties with last year's virtual learning.
"Making sure that they get everything they need was hugely stressful. And you know, we are not teachers. Teachers have one of the most important jobs in the world. These are our kids, this is our future," said Jessica Davis, parent of a 5-year-old and 6-year-old.
"I think they were a little bored, of course, at home," said Carol Johnson, a great-grandmother of two Pratt students. "You can only do so much hide-and-seeking and all of that with the kids. Again, it was very stressful for them being out of school for me."
On the issue of safety, Johnson told FOX6 News she is convinced the school is keeping her great-grandchildren safe with plastic partitions, sanitizer, masks and washing of the hands, but she is unsure about vaccinating kids under age 12.
"I don’t know. Younger kids, oh boy. It was harder for the older people, so I just don’t know about the kids under 12," Johnson said.
A White House COVID-19 Response Team member leading work on school reopening said she hoped vaccine will be authorized for children under 12 in the coming months.
"We don’t have a totally firm timeline, but we are hoping for later this year. But we do feel really confident that with these measures in place, measures like what is happening here at Marvin Pratt, you can stay in school safely, we can prevent transmission," said Mary Wall, White House COVID-19 Response Team.
The first lady touted the president's plan to require vaccinations in many more places of employment, including federal employees, workers whose employer hires more than 100 employees, and Head Start educators, a program offered at Pratt Elementary.
"That’s why he released a bold plan last week to make sure all of our schools can stay safe and open, by helping to ensure that the adults and the students who surround our children are vaccinated."
FOX6 News asked the first lady her thoughts on a possible vaccine mandate, but she did not answer as she walked out of the school library. Milwaukee Public Schools is mandating all workers including volunteers get vaccinated.
After the speech and roundtable, the first lady's spokesman says she took photos with people, was interviewed by the New York Times, and waved to children in two classrooms.
No students attended the speech nor the discussion.
Republican Party of Wisconsin Executive Director Mark Jefferson
"The past seven months under the Biden administration have been a crash course in bad government as Wisconsin families witness skyrocketing prices, a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a small business-crushing workforce shortage. Not even Dr. Jill Biden can cover for her husband’s failing grade."
RNC Spokesperson Preya Samsundar
"No visit from Jill Biden will erase the fact that the Biden administration is actively seeking to take away the rights of Badger Staters with their unconstitutional executive orders."
Next for the first lady
After her stop in Milwaukee, the first lady traveled to Des Moines, Iowa where she visited a community college campus.
At the beginning of September, the White House announced the first lady was heading back to the classroom herself. Jill Biden is the first to have a career outside of her public-facing duties. She teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College.